Orwell Would Love Israel's Anti-NGO Bill

Move to Limit Funding Runs Counter to Global U.S. Policy

We Won’t Be Silent: Israeli activists protest anti-NGO bill that would limit funding to human rights groups.
getty images
We Won’t Be Silent: Israeli activists protest anti-NGO bill that would limit funding to human rights groups.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published December 15, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Editor’s Clarification: An earlier version of this article mistakenly suggested that NGO Monitor supports the Knesset’s current NGO legislation. It does not. The article has been changed to clarify this point.

It was one of the boldest assaults on an Israeli military base in years: A gang of some 50 hostile West Bankers stormed a brigade headquarters near Qalqilya on December 13, attacked the troops with a hail of rocks, slashed tires and vandalized property before being repulsed. None of the attackers was killed or even captured.

Has Israel’s vaunted military lost its edge? Hardly. The problem was that the attackers were Israeli Jews — settlers and their militant allies — and the Israeli army doesn’t shoot Jews. If the attackers had been Arabs, half of them would have ended up dead. Arabs can get killed just demonstrating outside their homes.

It’s a perverse fulfillment of David Ben-Gurion’s famous dictum, “What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.” In this case, foreigners should shout all they like about Israel being an outlaw state — a nation governed not by democracy and rule of law but by ethnic triumphalism — but only Israel can make it so. And lately, it seems bent on doing just that.

One could cite countless little ways in which the rule of law is being eroded in Israel lately, but one action has caused worldwide alarm for its nakedness, and it’s our topic today: the legislation awaiting Cabinet and Knesset approval, the so-called NGO bill, aiming to choke off the finances of human-rights organizations.

The legislation has been through several acrimonious rewrites, but the latest draft, shepherded by the prime minister himself, seems almost certain of passage. It has three parts: First, it outlaws all foreign government funding of certain types of non-governmental organizations or NGOs (what Americans call nonprofits) that are deemed threatening to the state (more on this later). It also taxes their domestic Israeli donations at 45%. Second, it slaps a 45% tax on foreign donations to “political” NGOs such as Peace Now and B’Tselem. Third, it creates a Knesset (not judicial or administrative) panel to hear appeals by organizations seeking exemption.

Critics of Israel’s human rights NGOs claim they undermine Israeli democracy. NGO Monitor, an Israeli NGO that monitors other NGOs — but does not favor the legislation, it’s important to note — makes the case on its website that actions by one country aimed at “changing public opinion” in another country violate “the norms on non-interference in other democracies.” Besides, NGO Monitor says, the organizations receiving such funding don’t simply target Israeli public opinion — they engage actively in “delegitimization and political warfare against Israel.”

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? If organizations conspire with foreign governments to undermine democracy and wage war against their own country, lifting their tax exemption seems the least one could do. How could anyone argue with that?

One could start by exploring these supposed international democratic “norms” of non-interference. Rubbish. In fact, democracies do this sort of thing all over the world. America has been doing it for years. So has Israel.

Washington has its own federally-funded agency, the National Endowment for Democracy, that exists for precisely this purpose. It spends millions per year funding and training human-rights NGOs and even opposition political parties in more than 100 countries. Millions more in foreign-aid and State Department funds go to various quasi-governmental and private American groups doing the same overseas work.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.